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Does Taking a Shower Before an Exam Boost Performance?

  • Sean 

Does showering before an exam help?

The research has some interesting findings when it comes to hot and cold exposure on cognitive performance and taking a shower before an exam. The effects of a cold shower before an exam may be surprising!

So, should you actually take a shower before your exam?

In short, Yes. Showering has numerous benefits. Of people who bathe regularly, 80% report warmth, relaxation, and fatigue relief. It was also found that showering leads to better sleep and lower stress. These benefits are likely to improve exam performance.

Additionally, there are other benefits including a productivity boost from a daily discipline like this.

Key Benefits of showering before an exam

  • Improved sleep
  • Lower stress
  • Increased productivity
  • Relaxation

While this habit will benefit you on a daily basis, could it improve your exam performance? Does hot or cold showering have an impact on cognitive performance?

Hot vs Cold Showers Before an Exam?

Hot or Cold?

The effects of hot and cold showers when it comes to mental performance may be surprising. The quick answer is that hot showers may have some benefits when it comes to cognitive performance, but cold showers are a definite no-go.

Hot showers

A meta-analysis In the Journal ergonomics found that hot temperature exposure (through hot water) impaired cognitive performance in some ways and boosted it in others. There was a slight improvement in reasoning, learning, and memory tasks when it came to hot water exposure. However, when it came to mathematical tasks hot exposure made performance worse.

Performance was also worse when it came to other types of cognitive tasks not directly related to learning. The results of heat exposure are essentially mixed but seemed to be slightly positive overall.

Due to the mixed nature of these results, it is best to take a shower that is not too hot and just keep the temperature to what you are comfortable with.

Cold showers

So should, you take a cold shower before an exam or a study session?

It’s generally not recommended that you take a cold shower before an exam or studying unless you are already adjusted to the colder temperatures. This is because cold showers have long-lasting negative effects on cognitive performance. This has been observed consistently in a number of studies.

Let’s get into why this is the case.

There are a lot of talks online about the benefits of cold showers online. To be clear, there are benefits to cold showers. But, when it comes to cognitive performance you might be surprised. A literature review by the International Journal of Environmental research and public health showed that 15 out of the 18 examined studies saw a decrease in cognitive performance following cold exposure.

Many of these experiments used cold water immersion for their cold exposure which clearly has implications for cold showers. Finally, complex tasks seem to be affected more than simple ones, which clearly has implications for taking an exam. Overall while there are a lot of benefits to cold showers I would not advise you to take one on the morning of the exam.

Negative cognitive effects of cold water

  • Attention and processing speed
  • Executive function
  • Memory

It is important to note it has been found that if you acclimate (get used to) both hotter and colder temperatures these negative effects likely do not apply at all, or at least not nearly as much.

So if you always take hot or cold showers you should continue to do this on your exam day. In general, you should stick to what you are comfortable with. If you take average-temperature showers, stick with those.

Should You Shower Before Studying?

You might also be wondering if the benefits of showering also apply to studying. The answer for this is actually slightly different than showering before an exam.

Regularly showering before you start studying will allow you to get into the zone before you start. This is because it’s actually a good idea for a pre-study ritual. A pre-study ritual like showering will allow you to stop looking at your phone or computer for a bit and allow you to be present.

When it comes to temperature choice for a pre-study shower ritual there isn’t as much of a rule. While cold water can negatively impact cognitive processes, if you are showering in cold water regularly you will be relatively adjusted to these temperatures and you should not see any impact.

The Takeaway

It is clear that showering regularly has its benefits. In order to get benefits when it comes to your exam you should be showering as usual. You might be tempted to change something like this on your exam day in hopes of some boost or unusual benefit. Taking a hot shower might help, but cold showers have negative impacts on cognitive processes that are important for an exam (unless you are already used to cold showers). Follow your routine.

When it comes to showering as a pre-study ritual you can do this with cold water without any impact if you are adjusted to the temperature. Having a ritual like this is something that I have found to be very helpful for getting into a focused mode.